Game: Iron Gauntlets: Heroic Fantasy Roleplaying
Publisher: Politically Incorrect Games
Series: Iron Gauntlets
Review Dated: 13th, April 2004
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
I’m used to games like this popping up every now and then – but I’m not used to them being fantasy games. Iron Gauntlets is one of those games which I think would be a great introduction to role-playing and even better if there is an experienced GM (or Director in Iron Gauntlet talk) looking after newbie players.
Iron Gauntlets flirts with this mixture of experience too. The game begins with a basic introduction to roleplaying and fantasy. Later on the author suggests that the reader might be expecting the usual lists of spells by now – well, not if they’re new to roleplaying. It’s true, though, Iron Gauntlets has magic without spell lists.
I think it’s worth looking at Iron Gauntlets’ introduction to fantasy RPG. No. Really. It’s noted that we could play the game on internet message boards or email. This is far from a cutting edge suggestion but I can’t bring any other RPG to mind that also suggests this. (Forgive me I’m remiss in this; introductions to roleplaying now wash by like water off a duck’s back. Quack). The introduction explains about characters, the Director (GM), tasks (the dice bits) and the world setting. World building is part of the introduction; what is the weather like, how many continents does the planet have, is it like Earth, which races live in the world, are these races different from the ones offered in Iron Gauntlets and what about the level of magic in the world? Just a sampling of the points considered. It’s certainly far to say that many fantasy roleplaying games leave world building alone for future supplements or just assume you’ll be happy to play in the vanilla version of the packaged campaign setting. Kudos to Iron Gauntlets for the fuller, easy to read and yet not dumbed down introduction. Mind you, Politically Incorrect Games can be fairly certain that it won’t be an inexperienced roleplayer downloading the game.
Politically Incorrect Games are at the point where gamers in the know – know about Politically Incorrect Games. This is a PDF based company which continue to produce quality games. The core team; Brett Bernstein, Mark Bruno and Matt Drake are all names to look for in their own right. And Politically Incorrect Games’ quality growth benefits Iron Gauntlets in more than just “practised author” terms too. We’ve Disposable Heroes included free in Iron Gauntlets. These are full colour (with a black and white version too), cut out and fold up, paper miniatures. When Disposable Heroes launched as a series in its own right I was quite determined to reserve much of my judgement on the line until I saw how well supported it was. It’s great to see pages like this. There are also full colour map tiles in the download too. Another bonus. I don’t think they’re as good as some of the specialised cartography PDFs you can buy but I see the tiles here as entirely free and an example of that added extra which helps some games stand out from the crowd. Added extras can sometimes backfire though… I made a point of checking whether there was a centaur in the Disposable Heroes. There is. No backfire then, then.
Centaurs are one of the core races in the PDF. We’ve humans (lucky), elves (good at totem magic), dwarves (tought and resistant to magic), halflings (friendly but stealthy), centaurs (fast but large) and goblins (agile but weak). I think the only reason why centaurs aren’t more dominant in fantasy roleplaying games is because they’re awkward to deal with in a dungeon scenario. By the time I reached the centaurs in the fantasy race section it was clear to me that Iron Gauntlets was trying to be a friendly fantasy roleplaying game and yet not a cookie cutter imprint of the widely popular fantasy games. By the time I’d reached the end of the PDF it was clear to me that Iron Gauntlets succeeds in being a friendly fantasy game and isn’t a thinly distorted copy of the generic fantasy roleplaying game.
The stats are safely familiar but different. We have Fitness, Awareness, Creativity, Reasoning, Influence and Luck. We have Crafting, Divinity and Totem as magical Abilities. We do have Melee and Brawling as skills but also Legerdemain and Masonry. Then there are Styles. These are impressive combinations of skills, the reflection of real training, study and knowledge. Defensive Training, for example, looks to athletics, brawling and observation as fundamental skills. Styles are always dependant on one base skill and that’s always first and emboldened.
The game mechanics are simple but effective – always important. You roll d10s as per your ability score. Boost your dice count by spending luck points. Those dice which are equal or less than your skill rating count as a step. How many steps do you need to succeed? That depends on the difficulty of the test. Automatic Tasks kick in to ensure that there’s no need to bounce plastic when there’s no need to interrupt the narrative.
We’ve Backgrounds and Gimmicks. Gimmicks can be helpful or a hindrance. Backgrounds can demand certain Gimmicks are active.
We don’t have character classes, OCCs or career paths but we have vocations instead. Okay. It’s easy to poke fun at the semantics but vocations are light weight entries which list a couple of preferred “vocational” skills. Again that’s a clean, quick but effective offering from the 89 paged PDF. We’re encouraged to create our own vocations.
Since the task system is short but sweet Iron Gauntlets is able to fit an impressive number of combat modifiers into just a page or two of notes. This is helpful. Those of us who don’t care for RPG maths can see that this isn’t a serious chunk of the game. Those of us who like to have these mechanics worked out for us have that. If you want mounted or underwater combat – got that – or if you want damage by hot oil or asphyxiation – got that too.
As you might expect from a game called Iron Gauntlets there are healthy sections for armour, weapons and equipment.
The magic system reminds me slightly of White Wolf’s Mage. You have three broad types of magic; Crafting, Divine and Totem. In these types you’ve different areas of interest which the spellcaster mixes together to create spells. There are some examples of the mixes required to make those “traditional spells” you might be familiar with form other fantasy RPGs. I think the system is better than Mage because it’s simpler and more intuitive. Unlike Mage I don’t think the magic system was needless drawn out to support different Traditions either. You’ve what you need and no more. Experience has taught me this is ideal in many situations.
The weakest section in Iron Gauntlets, for me, is the Bestiary. This perception is entirely due to my inexplicable weakness for well illustrated, overly ornate and often mindlessly repetitive bestiaries. You’ve the basic creatures in Iron Gauntlets; skeletons and dragons. You’ve a few house creatures too (the Nayome serpent men spring to mind). I just don’t like the mix of illustration styles or the fact that not every entry is illustrated. It’s official. I’ve been corrupted by expensive eye candy and marketing gimmicks.
Behind the Scenes at Iron Gauntlet is a chapter of help for the Director. It’s here that Iron Gauntlet’s own trap between a game for newcomer, for everyone and for experienced roleplayers bares itself most obviously. There are observations on travel and how long it takes. There are notes on treasure and traps. However there is also a section on diceless play. How often do you get that? Ah. Okay. It does snuggle nicely with Politically Incorrect Games’ own diceless line – but, as noted above, I think PIG’s industry experience and supporting line up counts as a strong support to Iron Gauntlets.
I like Iron Gauntlets. I think it’s a great introductory fantasy roleplaying game. I think there’s every reason to use it if we – the gaming group and I – just can’t agree on a system to use. I suspect, though, that groups comfortable in their current fantasy world and game mechanics will be next to impossible to shift (and it may take more gloss, marketing bucks and polish than Iron Gauntlets has to do it). The question, “Do you need another fantasy RPG system?” is a harsh one to toss around in the face of Iron Gauntlets. Let’s not go there. Let’s just concentrate on Iron Gauntlets as an independent game. Iron Gauntlets does well; it’s quick but effective, detailed but clean, familiar yet not a carbon copy. The RPG gets the Iron Gauntleted thumbs up.